A Tour Of Murderland 1890

On Saturday 20th December, 1890, The Birmingham Mail published the following article which provides a vivid insight into the East End of London, and into the scene inside 13 Miller’s Court, where Mary Kelly had been murdered two years previously:-


“Never again will I place myself at the service of an inquisitive and indefatigable visitor who wants to see all the sights of the city.

This week I have been showing an American friend all that is worth seeing in the best-governed city in the world, and as Birmingham contains much that merits inspection, you may gather that I have had rather a busy time.

In return for the attention I had paid him, my American friend invited me to spend a couple of days with him in London.

Well, Birmingham was gloomy enough, goodness knows, so I accepted the invitation, and a night or two ago we found ourselves in the giddy whirl of London life.


Suddenly a terrible idea struck him. He had never seen “Murderland,” that awful area in Whitechapel where “Jack the Ripper” held his gory revels. Would I accompany him in a pilgrimage through the blood-stained slums of Whitechapel? Would I track the murderer’s footsteps in the snow?

I shrank in terror from such evening’s diversion, but, as my American friend was so intent on seeing “Murderland” before his return across the Atlantic, I could not let him set forth alone on his perilous journey.


A hansom took us to the Whitechapel Road, where we engaged a guide in the person of a bull-necked gentleman who us that he had been one of the special constables told tin that had been one the special on the look-out for Jack the Ripper, and that he “had got three bloomin’ good hidings for collaring the wrong man.”

Well, I will not describe those ghastly places as we saw them that night, with the moonlight streaming upon the frozen snow.

A view along 19th century Whitechapel Road.
Whitechapel Road In Victorian Times.


There are scores of more squalid spots in the East End of London than Buck’s Bow, Mitre Square, Berner Street, and George Yard. There are more forbidding localities in this vastly improved Birmingham of ours. The only sight which came up to the morbid expectations of my Transatlantic friend was the house in Dorset Street, where the man-fiend did his butchery on Lord Mayor’s Day.

It is one-room tenement down a dingy court, odoriferous of everything that is pestilential in the slum life of the modern Babylon.

For a long time after the murder the room; vacant. Nobody would take it, owing to the rumour that it was haunted by “Jack’s” victim.

But now an old couple, a talkative dame and her bedridden husband – have taken it, and if you drop half-a-crown into the old hag’s hand – as I did – she will show you ghastly relics of the crimes that will make your hair stand on end.

A press sketch showing Mary Kelly's room at 13 Miller's Court.
Mary Kelly’s Room at 13 Miller’s Court


In a corner of the floor, by the head of the bed, is a huge crimson stain; it is more than stain, for the blood has been allowed to coagulate till it has become quite an encrusted mass.

“Why don’t you wash the floor?”, my friend asked.

I have scrubbed and scrubbed at it, but I can’t get it out,” replied the crone in a tone which resented the insinuation that she wished it to remain as it was.


On the plaster wall, above the bed, are the fading imprints of a bloody hand. “That is where Jack wiped his hands,” croaked the old hag, as she held a candle stuck bottle, close to the wall to allow my inquisitive American friend the opportunity for minute examination.

I fancied I heard an inward groan escape him; the horrors of Whitechapel were beginning to tell upon him, and he looked as though he wished himself back at the American lounge at the Empire Theatre of Varieties, which he had deserted for a peep at “Murdcrland.”


“Have you seen enough? ” I asked him.

“You haven’t seen all yet”, chimed in the old hag, “don’t you want to see “Jack’s face?”

“What do you mean?”, asked my trembling Transatlantic friend.

“Just look at pencil those pencil marks over the bed, but don’t kneel on my husband, for he’s very ill.”

We could just see from beneath the grimy counterpane a few straggling gray hairs, which told us that some emaciated body was stretched out under the clothes. But we could not see “Jack’s face.”


“Look again, deary,” chuckled the old crone, as she wobbled the candle about near the wall, “don’t you see the figure 51 in lead pencil?”

Yes, true enough, the figures were there, but what they had to do with “Jack’s face” was more than our disturbed minds could grasp. It seems that before leaving the room the murderer scrawled 51 in pencil on the wall, but what significance there was to be attached to the figures nobody knew. By the panic-stricken neighbours, it was accepted as a warning that he was bent upon committing 51 more murders.

“If you look at that 5 long enough,” resumed the old woman, “you will see it turn into a man’s face. I often look at it and think that I can see Jack’s face in it.”


We left her staring at the murderer’s pencil mark, with the bottle bobbing about near the wall, and fled out into the nipping night air.

Never more am I tempted to escort an inquisitive stranger through “Murderland.”

It is not the sort of thing to prepare you for a jovial Christmas holiday.